The United States will support a new NATO rapid response force with troops, intelligence, and equipment, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in Germany Monday.
NATO defense chiefs are meeting in Brussels this week. On the agenda is devising updated strategies to resist Russian aggression and an expanding Islamic State.
American support for the alliance’s so-called Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) is significant, as such assistance will antagonize Moscow while the Obama administration seeks its support in other international initiatives, especially support for a nuclear deal with Iran. The VJTF will be supported with high-end intelligence assets, possibly including drones, as well as special operations forces.
This is Carter’s first NATO summit as secretary of defense. Earlier this week, he discussed the changing European security environment with reporters.
"The new playbook is to respond to the new security situation in Europe, including the situation posed by Russia’s own behavior," Carter said. "It’s not like it was in the old days. We are looking at a NATO response that is much more mobile and much more agile."
Carter appeared to be referring in part to a pending White House decision to pre-position military equipment in some NATO countries near Russia, possibly including Poland and the Baltic nations.
Poland has been openly supportive of an expanded NATO equipment presence on its territory as a means to deter future Russian aggression.
Poland Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak told Polish reporters that the pre-deployment of military equipment would be "another step toward building a greater U.S. presence in Poland."
The alliance is expected to support pre-positioning equipment, but individual members, including Germany, remain wary of antagonizing Russia.
Berfore this week’s summit, NATO members used Polish territory for BALTOPS, a large amphibious exercise designed to demonstrate the alliance’s commitment to defending its eastern European members.
Rapid reaction capabilities demonstrated in the exercise will be key to the alliance’s defense preparations in the future, not only because of the massing of Russian military personnel and equipment around Ukraine but also because U.S. troop deployments in Europe have fallen to about 65,000 from a Cold War high of almost 400,000, according to the Washington Post.
Carter acknowledged in an interview that NATO policy must be "strong but balanced," a reference to the administration’s interest in securing Russia’s assistance with the Iran nuclear talks and broader Middle East security challenges.
Carter also lamented Russian President Vladimir Putin’s "backward looking" aggression.
Putin, for his part, claims that Kiev and not Moscow is responsible for the unsettled security environment in Ukraine. Sanctions imposed by the European Union against Russia almost certainly will be extended into early next year.
Russia is not NATO’s only pressing security concern. The Obama administration’s reluctance to engage militarily in the region also is causing ripples in the alliance. The rise of the Islamic State is a major concern for most members, as is instability throughout the region.
For Italy, an important anchor on NATO’s southern flank, the growth of extremism in Libya after the death of Libyan President Muammar Qaddafi has resulted in thousands of undocumented refugees fleeing to Italy’s southern coast.